Ann Flinspach Lewis, 82, passed away with family by her side on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at Evanston Hospital. She is survived by her husband of 60 years, Elmer Lewis; daughter Elizabeth Jane “Beth” Lewis Pardoe (Jeremy Pardoe); son Paul Andrew Lewis (Gloria Huang Lewis); grandsons Frederick Charles Lewis Pardoe and Robert Lawrence Dawbarn Pardoe; and sisters Mary Lorene Evans and Charla Jane Cullen.
Ann was born in Bloomington, Ill., on Feb. 27, 1940, to Charles Emmanuel Flinspach and Emma Jane Baker Flinspach. She grew up in Mason City, Ill., with her parents and sisters. Throughout her life, Ann enjoyed telling stories of life during and after World War II in the small Midwestern town. Possessed of an inquisitive mind, she loved learning. Ann forever regretted that she was told in high school to take typing rather than physics. The family notes with a laugh that Ann later overcompensated by marrying a physicist, raising a physicist and helping her daughter to raise two more.
Ann went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in sociology. In the spring of 1960, Ann met Elmer at the McKinley Foundation Sunday supper club, and their romance developed during civil rights marches. In the summer of 1962, they married in Mason City and honeymooned in Door County, Wis., where they bought their beloved, lakeside home “Cedar Cliffs” more than 30 years later.
The couple continued to live in Champaign, where Ann worked part-time as a receptionist, while Elmer completed his doctorate. The Army then took them to New Jersey, where Ann relished life along the ocean, friendships forged as an Army wife and exploring the East Coast from Maine to Key West, Fl., living in a small tent.
Ann channeled her caring and empathetic nature into a career as a social worker. She began as a general assistance worker in Cambridge, Mass. She often conducted her home visits by bicycle, allowing her to meet Elmer and sail on the Charles River during his lunch breaks from MIT.
In 1968, when Elmer joined the Northwestern University faculty, Ann began her love affair with Evanston. When they started their family soon after, Ann took appropriate pride in her successful challenge to hospital rules, which the family says enabled Elmer to be the first father in an Evanston Hospital delivery room. Ann threw herself into Evanston civic life as a campaign volunteer, active member of the League of Women Voters and participant in a long list of reading and discussion groups. As her children entered the public schools, Ann became a junior great books instructor and president, in turn, of the Willard Elementary and the Haven Middle School PTAs.
When her children Beth was in high school and Paul in middle school, Ann returned to social work, focusing on adoption while concurrently earning a master’s in counseling. Her commitment to Evanston’s public schools never flagged, and Ann served on the District 202 School Board from 1989 to 1993.
The whole family has happy memories of Ann’s beaming face upon the placement of a baby in a loving home. Those smiles returned each holiday season as she cherished photos and updates from the families she had helped to form. Through this work, Ann became a strong proponent of open adoption; her final position before retirement was managing a program for uniting adoptees with their birth families.
Ann’s boundless love for and devotion to her husband, children, and grandchildren extended to their friends, whom she inevitably made her own. She shared her Midwestern commitment to community from her home on Marcy Avenue, where her children’s playmates gathered, and she nurtured her husband’s graduate students as well as their families with a home away from home. Always a gracious hostess, Ann cemented collegial relationships at legendary parties, featuring her signature sangria, for the 10 years Elmer served as department chair.
Ann traveled as voraciously as she read, with an unflagging desire to experience new cultures, racking up visits to all seven continents and more than 50 countries. She explored the world, first with Elmer and then as a family of four during many summers spent in Germany or Los Alamos, N.M.
She relished her children’s far-flung locations during their undergraduate and doctoral studies for the additional travel opportunities they created. In theory, Ann retired before Elmer. In practice, retirement enabled Ann to co-supervise Northwestern students with Elmer during two extended stays in Cape Town, South Africa, where maternal health projects drew upon her professional experience.
When her grandsons moved to Evanston, Ann again became a familiar presence on Evanston playgrounds interspersed with ever more adventurous trips and cruises, where she made lasting friendships. Among the many places and people she loved, Ann was happiest during Christmas with family at “Cedar Cliffs,” where she enjoyed the serene woods and peaceful water view.
Following Ann’s open-heart surgery in 2014 to replace and repair three heart valves badly scarred from childhood rheumatic fever, she struggled valiantly against the many complications and other health problems that worsened as she aged. Even as her health and eyesight waned, Ann spent countless hours researching genealogy to share with her family. As she always wished, she remained at home with Elmer, a mile from Beth’s family, until her final days, when a fall and resulting surgery proved too much for her weakened body to overcome.
The immediate family will hold a private witnessing ceremony of her cremation.
In lieu of flowers, please honor Ann’s lifetime commitment to children’s wellbeing with a donation to Smile Train, P.O. Box 96231, Washington, D.C. 20090-6231.